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CHS boys gain valuable experience in postseason basketball loss
• Dawgs amass 17-11 record
Ceres High’s boys basketball team Feb 2024
Ceres High’s boys basketball team compiled a 17-11 overall record placed second in the WAC standings and qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II playoffs this season. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Ceres High’s boys basketball team gained valuable experience while competing in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-II playoffs this past week.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t know how this group would do this season,” Bulldogs’ seventh-year head coach T.J. Walker Jr. said. “I started seeing some things in the fall. They were committed. They liked each other.”

Seeded 18th, the youth-laden Bulldogs closed out the 2023-24 campaign with an 87-51 loss to 15th-seeded Granite Bay in a Play-In Game on Feb. 12.

Visiting Ceres High committed 20 turnovers in defeat.

“We all know we didn’t do our best tonight,” Walker said. “I thought we matched their physicality. We didn’t do the little things — rebounding and taking care of the ball. That’s a good recipe for a butt whooping.”

The Bulldogs amassed a 17-11 overall record and placed second in the Western Athletic Conference standings with a 10-4 mark this winter.

Ceres High finished 13-15 and fifth in league (7-7) during the 2022-23 school year.

“We have a young team,” Walker said. “We had our ups and downs. We’ll get back to work and talk about how we can get better.”

The Grizzlies went 9-21 and took sixth in the Sierra Foothill League. Granite Bay lost 70-61 to second-seeded Capital Christian in the first round of the playoffs on Feb. 14.

“I saw their schedule,” Walker said. “They probably played in the second toughest league this year. There’s a big difference in basketball up North. It’s a different animal.”

Ceres High’s Manny Ortega had a team-high 16 points versus Granite Bay.

Freshman Carey Mastin added seven points, four rebounds and four assists.

AJ Brown collected seven points and three assists.

The Bulldogs trailed by just three points, 18-15, at the end of the opening period against the Grizzlies.

“The first quarter, we competed,” Walker said. “We did the little things right.”

Granite Bay’s lead ballooned to double figures in the second quarter.

“We gave up four or five rebounds that led to either a quick layup or a 3."

Ceres High was awarded the Sac-Joaquin Section’s 18th-and-final Division-II Playoff Play-In berth despite collecting 17 wins and taking second in the WAC during the regular season.

“Our league doesn’t get a lot of respect because our league hasn’t done much in the playoffs,” said Walker. “We’re not going to get respect until we start winning games consistently.”

Ceres High will lose four players to graduation: Brown, Gurman Dhaliwal, Ezekial Lopez and Antwan Stevenson.

Brown averaged 8.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.0 assists per game.

Dhaliwal averaged 4.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.

“I have nothing bad to say about them,” Walker stated. “They helped lead their team to a playoff berth.”

Ortega, Mastin, Myles Vath, Aiden Maines, Jaylen Pettigrew, Somil Bansal, Tremond Karriem, Saragun Singh and Treyvon Martinez could rejoin Ceres High’s team next year.

Ortega averaged 16.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.1 assists per game.

Mastin averaged 11.5 points, 5.2 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.3 rebounds.

Vath averaged 6.1 points.

Singh averaged 4.3 points and 3.9 rebounds.

“We got a good group of boys in our program. We’re going to keep working hard. We always want to get better.”

Ceres High earned its first playoff berth since 2016-17 this winter.

The Bulldogs also made their first-ever postseason appearance under Walker’s guidance

“This year was the first year we’ve had 11 players in the gym during the fall. That was big. We were in a lot of close game early in the season. And that paid off in league. We learned how to win games.”

Ceres High will compete against Central Valley, Livingston, Beyer, Grace Davis, Johansen, Lathrop and Pacheco in the new-look WAC next season.

“We want to win league and make some noise in the playoffs. That’s our expectation every year. It doesn’t change with people leaving.”

Central Valley and Livingston relocated from the Central California Conference and Trans Valley League, respectively, as part of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s realignment plan.

WAC members Los Banos and Mountain House will depart for the CCC and Valley Oak League.

“It makes our league even more interesting for everybody."

Ceres High is looking forward to battling crosstown-rival Central Valley. 

“Now, we get to play twice,” Walker said. “It’s always an amazing night. The city is rocking.”

AJ Brown Ceres basketball
Ceres High’s boys basketball team will lose four players to graduation, including AJ Brown. - photo by Dale Butler